Nicholas Quirke was delighted to have the opportunity to put his Mandarin Vocabulary to the test on 4 March 2021 when the tea rooms he had sought out turned out to be absurdly expensive. His morning had been low key and relaxing. He was looking forward to lunch of tofu and grilled vegetable kebabs and whipped up his own braised marinated tempeh and guacamole to add to the feast. His plan was to visit the Prince Keqin’s (junwang) Mansion which was surprisingly nearby and there was also a renowned tea and bookshop in a converted church nearby. Combining some sight seeing with tea seemed a great idea and he felt a sense of purpose as he set off to absorb another piece of Beijing history. Typically it was a straight path to the relic but Beijing roads are wide and often separated by a median barrier which makes getting to the other side problematic and even though there was a crossing relatively nearby the passage through was blocked by bikes parked across the the entrance to the crossing. On this day however there was an unusually large amount of police present which, indicated to him that the dignitaries of the CCP, who were holding a general meeting in Beijing would be travelling along the road. He managed to get across despite the obstacle with the help of an officer and continued on his way. He was disappointed on arriving at his destination to discover that the mansion had actually been converted into a secondary school, and though it appeared on a list of relics there was no way he would be able to go in side and see the supposedly beautiful, compact buildings. He had to appreciate the architecture from the outside and add it as another small failure that his trip had been littered with. As always, he had made the effort and had some small sense of the royal residence and what it might have felt like to be Yoto, a Prince Keqin of the Qing Dynasty. In the complicated inheritance nomenclature regulations Prince Keqin was one of twelve ‘Iorn-cap’’ princely peerages used in China, which meant that the title could be passed down without being downgraded. The first bearer of the title was Yoto (1599–1639), a grandson of the founder of the Qing dynasty. In 1636, he was awarded the title “Prince Cheng of the First Rank” (Prince Cheng) by his uncle, who succeeded However, he was subsequently demoted for committing offences. After his death, he was posthumously honoured with the title “Prince Keqin of the Second Rank”. It was passed down over 13 generations and held by 17 persons. As one of the highest six ranks of the imperial hierarchy, the holder of the title enjoyed the “Eight Privileges” (八分; bafen; jakūn ubu). These privileges were : 1. Promotional books inscribed on jade, set of seals for correspondency, red carriage wheels, purple horse reins, right for reported entry, red walls of the residence, usage of corner lanterns, usage of leopard tail guns 2. Precious stones on the mandarin hat crests, clothes with encircled dragon patterns, usage of imperial porcellain tea sets, purple reins, red wheels, doornails on the gate, employment of guards. 3. Finials on mandarin hats embellished with precious stones, usage of two-eyed peacock feather, surcoats with encircled dragon patterns, purple reins, right to enter the imperial palace by horse, leopard tail guns, separate manor in the capital, employment of officials and eunuchs. Other than the Entrance gate which he could see, there was nothing now left of the opulence these privileges afforded and a little disappointed he turned back and made his way to the church which was a handsome coalescence of Presbyterian and oriental architecture. The interior was really lovely with printing press’s relics and ephemera cluttering the comfortable environment. He was looking forward to spending the rest of the afternoon there until he asked for a green tea and was shown the price of 188 yuan, almost £20. A cuppa, the Prince Keqin would have been comfortable with but not a price he was prepared to pay. “茶很贵 ”（Cha hen gui!), he stated and retired from the establishment with his pride diminished, his mandarin utilised and his wallet safe. Fortunately in the same compound there was a little cafe where for a fraction of the price he was able to enjoy their warmth, WiFi and quirky decor. By the time he left the restrictions at the crossing had been tightened and he had to cycle to Xuanwuman before doubling back on himself . And even at the crossroads all traffic going north or south had been stuspended for 10 minutes as they waited for the traffic from the East, Tiananmen Square, had free reign of the roads. It was the first time he had seen a line of police barricading the highway and it seemed a costly exercise just to ensure the roads were clear. He had actually managed to surreptitiously film the entire procession of busses and limousines as they passed. An unexpectedly smart and fun twist to the horror genre was delivered in ‘Scare Me’ which, was the movie morsel they savoured that night before a welcome slumber enveloped him.
Nicholas Quirke was wondering what he could do to spice up the every day on 3 March 2021 and realised that he had missed a trick when he was shown a You Tube of a Chinese Vegan restaurant detective. He had thought of making a video of his vegan journey in china, but it seemed that someone else was now on the trail. Still it was a good idea and maybe as an Englishman in Beijing there could still be some mileage in making a purely food video. It was another routine day with domestic chores dominating the morning, including the making of a visually pleasing carrot and beetroot curry. The arrival of a new mirror found him on a step ladder and drilling holes into concrete; another task where time spiralled out of control but once it was mounted the space immediately looked less cluttered. He was teaching in the evening and once lunch was consumed he headed for Chaoyangmen and the Little Nap Cafe in Galaxy mall where he worked until it was time to teach. His students that afternoon were Yuda and the twins Anthony and Alex, who the last time he had seen them had behaved really badly, fought and been rude to him. He started the class on the ‘Past Continuous’ with a reminder of their behaviour which, he would not tolerate and he thought was a nice segue into the class topic. The class was actually entertaining and he learned about how they had spent their respective New Year. Another uneventful day which, he made more interesting for himself by taking photographs and filming his journey. It was intriguing when he spotted two separate individuals displaying a quirky fashion trend that he had seen before but ignored. Wearing spectacles, sunglasses on the back of the head seemed to be de-riguer among the youth and was definitely not a custom he would adopt. ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ was the film for the evening and hearing and seeing Glenda Jackson in action was like being bathed in honey. As unsettling as the topic of dementia is, seeing this brave actress explore the cadences of the loss of mind and control was thrilling. Though he mourned slightly her 25 year disappearance from performing onstage its was a blessing that she was back weaving the magic he had grown up with once again. Despite the largely mundane aspect of his day he still felt tired and ready when the time came for sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was challenging himself to write in Chinese characters on 2 March 2021 as he wanted to send thank you cards to his hosts at New Year and to Peng’s cousin for the gifts he had been given. The task took an inordinately long time to complete. The Hanzi which are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese are not an alphabet but a writing system in which a character generally represents one syllable of spoken Chinese and may be a word on its own or a part of a polysyllabic word. They are often composed of parts that may represent physical objects, abstract notions, or pronunciation and literacy requires the memorization of a great number of characters: even college-educated Chinese speakers only know about 4,000 of the tens of thousands, though most are graphic variants, or were used historically and passed out of use, or are of a specialized nature. It was however an interesting provocation and through the lines and marks there was a real beauty to the constructions he was making. He was reminded of they many times at home in the UK when he had started something in the belief that he could dispatch it swiftly and move onto other more pressing needs, only to discover that it required more time and diligence than expected and as a result all other plans were changed. And that was the situation he found himself in after making the tiny scratches for over two and a half hours. His plans to find the tomb of Matteo Ricci were put on hold and instead he cooked another dhal for lunch and went out for tea in the afternoon instead. Peng had a scan at the hospital and they met at another industrial art park when he was through. It was impressive how the fascinating old equipment was turned into sculptures. The mind boggling designs, rusting away had a surprising beauty to them particularly in the light of them having been functioning parts of some industrial landscape. He recalled the debris that littered the vista of Benton Gas works back in 1984 when he had been working on the film of that name, and how the haunting dystopian landscape was now destroyed rather than conserved for its imagery and historical significance in the manner that China seemed to. The tea cost the equivalent of £10, having increased in price by over 20% and he decided that his patronage of the establishment would now have to end. Aside from writing his blog and preparing for a lesson on Wednesday, the rest of the day glided routinely to bedtime with only the horror film ‘Son’ which, proved to be quite gripping to make it stand out from any other evening. He noted the arrival of two long emails from friends in the UK but sleepiness meant he would have to wait till the next day to read properly as he was too sleepy to concentrate.
Nicholas Quirke was disappointed when he woke with outcome of the severe weather warning on 1 March 2021 when the forecast for heavy snow turned out to be a light dusting. It was perhaps a blessing as he had to get to the hospital first thing for an appointment Peng had made for him to see a doctor about the acute pain he was experiencing from some very vicious haemorrhoids. It had been going on for nearly 5 weeks and none of the creams he was using seemed to help. As it was Peng needed to see a doctor too as he was following up some concerns that had arisen from a health check. The hospital was a short cycle ride awayThe procedure of getting an ID card reminded him of the struggles he had at the massage hospital at the beginning of his stay for sciatica and he was relieved that he had Peng with him to help. The process was frustrating but once he was registered he actually saw the Dr within minutes. The only option open for him, once he had experienced the Dr’s intrusive examination was apparently surgery, for which he would have to spend the night in hospital, no visitors and would cost 15,000 yuan. At that cost he was just going to have to survive on pain killers, despite the words of the medic as he took a look ringing in his ears. “Ohhh, that’s big!” It didn’t stop him from making lentil dhal four lunch as he was back on a diet after the rigorous eating new year had incited in him. In the afternoon he drowned his sorrows with a visit to a nearby tearooms, one he hadn’t been to before. He started negotiating some additional teaching with the school and with his friend Terry who he was doing some online teaching for to ensure that he still had some income should he be able to extend his stay again. In the evening he finished watching the National Theatre at Home’s archive production of ‘Mosquitoes’ with Olivia Coleman before settling down to enjoy the touching ‘The Map of Tiny Perfect Things’ which in itself was a perfect little gem. He took a painkiller in the hope that the morning might be free from excruciating discomfort and slipped swiftly into sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was infuriated with himself on 28 February 2021 when having cycled to the subway station in the drizzle, survived an rear death experience with a reckless taxi, passed through security and stood on the platform only to discover he had left the umbrella he had bought with him in the bicycle basket. He rushed back outside to discover the bike and umbrella were gone. He had lost an item and wasted money on paying for a journey he didn’t take. The expletives that ran through his head regarding his misfortune were endless and unprintable. He was on his way to work and the wanton squandering of time and money continued to bother him on the journey and even into his lesson with Chloe which for the first time was face to face and thankfully not on line after the last debacle. Fortunately his mood lifted by the time he left work as today they were marking a particularly important anniversary. In 2020 he had arrived back in Beijing on 29 February as it was a leap year the month was a day longer and he would have to wait another 3 years to honour the occasion on the exact day and they had chosen to commemorate on the 28th instead. A day when he had actually departed from Japan and enjoyed a a night’s stopover in Seoul. It felt like an important occasion and paying another visit to the only 3 Michelin star vegetarian restaurant in the world for afternoon tea gave it the required gravitas. He had set his heart on spending a year living in China and discovering its landscapes, people and history and when he had arrived he had no expectations as to how this might be achieved. He had certainly not expected that the short term accommodation he had been offered would become his home for the following 12 Months. His travel Visa required him to leave China every 3 months and in the climate of fear surrounding COVID 19 he had not anticipated his visit to last. Circumstances around the globe and in the UK contrived to keep him here and apart from 14 days quarantine on his arrival, his stay which, had been unbroken, he had enjoyed a fair amount of liberty. Over the four seasons he had resided in China he had been to twenty cities in seventeen provinces, climbed the Great Wall, journeyed round Qinghai Lake, stayed incognito in an area forbidden to foreigners, travelled by car, train, boat and plane and discovered along the journey the relics, temples, restaurants, malls, parks , cinemas, theatres, Galleries museums and tearooms the vast country and especially of Beijing. He had mastered the subway and traversed the roads of numerous cities throughout China on foot and bike. He had participated in a host of Chinese celebrations, made numerous friends, become a teacher and a scriptwriter. Virtually every day he had made a film, written a diary and taken photographs recording his movements, sights and experiences. Above all, none of this would have been possible without the wonderful company, patience, warmth and kindness of the beautiful spirit that is Guo Peng. It was a year deeply etched in his heart and celebrating in the most expensive restaurant he had been in, dining on vegan cakes and drinking Aged Pu’er tea was definitely a kind of icing. They reflected over dinner on the year and the many experiences he and they had enjoyed. Needless to say the afternoon tea was exquisite in every way, from the delicacies they consumed and the service, to the overall atmosphere. It was sheer pleasure which was a good thing to take home with them as Peng had another move planned for the evening and to his surprise he found himself once more shifting furniture around. It wasn’t too taxing but it required physical exertion and watching an undemanding comedy horror, ‘Bloody Hell’ was a fun and undemanding end to the day and the year. As he prepared for a good nights sleep his thoughts drifted to what the year ahead would hold, with the promise of more teaching and with a home provided for him it looked like there could stroll be many nights of slumber in the Orient ahead.
Nicholas Quirke was closing a cycle on 27 February 2021 having observed as attentively as possible the ancient and modern traditions of the Chinese New Year and the ushering in of the new bought him almost to the completion of a full year of living in China and with Peng. The day felt strangely flat after the build up to the end of the celebrations and holidays and the sense that his days were about to plateau out with work and routine beckoning was underlying the attempt to make more of the day than may have been necessary. This feeling was reflected in his agreeing to go and see ‘Tom and Jerry’ at the cinema. It felt like a desperate move and once he had sat through the the tedious story the sense of purposely killing time, in fact murdering the hours was overwhelming. He had loved the cartoons anarchy as a child and though the film did capture some of the chaos it was such a contrived and illogical narrative with its mixture of live action and animation he really had no idea what to make of it. If he was in danger of becoming to settled into life in Beijing the journey to the cinema reminded him that he was on alien soil and no matter what he would never quite fit in. He observed the moment he sat down that a passenger sitting opposite was mesmerised by his presence and even when he took to filming the unflinching gaze the eyes remained riveted to his being. They had planned to eat after the film but as neither was particularly hungry they went instead to a cafe in one of the SoHo malls where they had once enjoyed a vegan meal at ‘Sister Curry’s’. It had been an excellent meal but as the owner was utterly garrulous and a little crazy Peng had refused ever to return. The cafe though was very comfortable and relaxing and typically after a couple of hours food and what to get was much on the mind. They agreed too a curry and a new place nearby was located. Once they arrived though both realised they had actually been there before. It was impossible not to recognise the venue with its western ephemera decorating the shelves and in particular a wooden figurine of Tintin the familiarity of which, on both visits had tweaked a mild yearning for home. Now that he had established some roots in the country and had lived there a year Peng thought it was about time he adopted a Chinese name and presented Nicholas with a few proposals which he and his cousin had envisioned and reflected elements of his name and persona. He could choose a surname from：柯 (KE) or 康(KANG) and his given name choices were 胜为(Sheng Wei): victory, vegan, vintage, 素生(Su Sheng): veggie, born or 维观 (Wei Guan): Vegan, observe/opinion. It was a difficult choice and it would take a while for him to fully appreciate which looked and sounded best but he was both honoured and flattered that it was considered he should have one. Despite the prosaic tenor of the day’s beginning he felt invigorated by the time they were home and the evening movie, ‘Minari’ was as deeply human and touching as the trip to the cinema was trivial. The hours had been consumed and sleep was welcomed to come and take another seven away.
Nicholas Quirke was celebrating the culmination of the New Year Spring Festival on 26 February 2021. The fifteenth day of the lunar calendar was the Lantern Festival and everywhere red paper, silk lanterns were strewn through the Hutongs and trees bringing colour to the greyest areas and bleak air. As early as the 206 BCE–25 CE it had become a festival with great significance where the lanterns symboliszed people letting go of their past selves and getting new ones. Of the many beliefs about the origin of the Lantern Festival the most likely is traced back more than 2,000 years ago and linked to the reign of Emperor Ming, an advocate of Buddhism, who ordered that all households follow the Monks practice of lighting lanterns on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. His favourite though was the legend of a beautiful crane that flew down to earth from heaven. After landing on earth it was hunted and killed by a band of villagers and this act deeply enraged the Jade Emperor that he planned a storm of fire to destroy the village on the fifteenth lunar day. The Jade Emperor’s daughter warned the inhabitants of the plan. The village was in turmoil because nobody knew how they could escape their imminent destruction. However, a wise man from another village suggested that every family should hang red lanterns around their houses, set up bonfires on the streets, and explode firecrackers on the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth lunar days. This would give the village the appearance of being on fire to the Jade Emperor. On the fifteenth lunar day, troops sent down from heaven whose mission was to destroy the village saw that the village was already ablaze, and returned to heaven to report to the Jade Emperor. Satisfied, the Jade Emperor decided not to burn down the village. From that day on, people celebrate the anniversary on the fifteenth lunar day every year by carrying lanterns on the streets and exploding firecrackers and fireworks. The lanterns are always red to symbolize good fortune and part of the celebration involves going out at night carrying paper lanterns and solve riddles on the lanterns unfortunately with the health risks this tradition was not happening in Beijing and instead, Nicholas and Peng were going top conduct their own private celebration. It was vital that he report to the police and get his accommodation certificate and he left the house early to get to get the chore out of the way. They planned to have lunch of Shang Guo at their favourite restaurant to serve this dish. However, it seemed that many people had the same idea as when they arrived at 12.15 there were no tables available and hey had to sit and wait outside. The desire for the food was great and though they had to bide their time for over 20 minutes in the open cool air it was worth the wait. As always the food was delicious and served with a soya milk that had a wonderful slightly burnt taste to it. It felt like a huge amount of food and they were stuffed by the time they finished and would not eat anymore that day. The resolution did not last long as once they sat down for tea at 1920 cafe biscuits and nuts were devoured and on the way home they stopped a Walmart, ostensibly for ginger but they came away laden with crisps, Tang Yuan and the northern China equivalent of glutinous rice balls Yuan Xiao which, were made by rolling the filling of nut, osmanthus, black sesame in the rice flour again and again which made for a heavier dish. When they were home they prepared for the evening entertainment and attached five riddles to each of the lanterns, they also had a prize attached to each outcome. Amidst a lot of laughter the answers were discovered and each ended up with a number of prizes from money various tasks. They cooked and ate the Yuan Xiao and settled down to watch a somewhat dull sci-fi film LX2048 which ended what had been an entertaining evening on a damp note. It did not stop him from sleeping once the time came to retire.
Nicholas Quirke was preparing for the finale of Chinese New Year on 25 February 2021 and for the morning he puts on his interior decorating hat to position and hang the 9 Lanterns which would be in place for the auspicious Lantern festival the next day. Nine lanterns because 9 九, JIǓ sounds just like 久 (jiǔ), which means “long lasting” and “eternity” in Chinese and on birthdays and wedding celebrations, the number 9 is welcome as it represents longevity. Nine is also traditionally associated with the Chinese emperor. The emperor’s robes had nine dragons on them, officials were organized in nine ranks, and the Forbidden City is known to have a total of 9,999 and a half rooms. With the creative part his day complete Nicholas trad a familiar path to the the Exit/ Entry bureau to collect his passport which now would see him through to the 17th of March. He followed up this now mundane task with a visit to the recently discovered Corner Cafe where he noisily sipped tea, ate nuts and tapped away at his I-pad in the ‘Quiet Room’ which offered the only available seats. He worked hard and happily then realised he still needed to get to the police station before it shut at 17.30. He cycled furiously to the subway and when he arrived at Chanchunjie he peddled with equal ferocity to get him too the station for 17.28. The doors however were firmly shut and he would have to make the pilgrimage to register his accommodation in the morning. Tang Yuan, sweet glutinous rice balls, was once again on the menu for supper and equally delicious, but not in the least sweet was their evening movie, ‘I Care A Lot’. The evil that men or in this case, women do was a thought provoking feast to go to sleep on.
Nicholas Quirke was in eye catching form on 24 February 2021. He began his day, as most Wednesdays began with his weekly domestic ritual of dusting, hoovering and mopping and as he scrubbed away at the Beijing dirt that drifted through the apartment he took delivery of a package of badges he had ordered to decorate his slowly disintegrating caps. These were traditional iconic images of Chairman Mao and he delightedly pinned the splashes of colour onto a couple of the ruptured items. As he was going to Tai Koo Li to get some new coffees from Nespresso for Peng he would have a opportunity to wear the enhanced garments, though the time when he would have blended into the populace with such meaningful decoration had long past. The journey was too far to cycle but it did give him a good walk from the subway to the mall where he had decided to complete his visit with tea at Pge one bookstore. he found a very pleased to window alcove and made himself comfortable. he had not been there long before he was approached by a photographer who been admiring his cap and looked and asked if he could take some photos. It was some time since he had posed for a photographer and as always he enjoyed the attention. They swapped WeChat and Instagram ID’s and he was left to continue his work feeling like Citizen Quirke had been recognised in his incorporeal home of China. There was an impressive new sculpture to honour the Year of the Ox, a luck animal symbolising auspiciousness and fortune in Chinese folklore and its design, by artist Heng Bi, is meant to send out good wishes for “all the hipsters” that gather in the locality. The afternoon sped by and he was surprised that by the time he emerged from the subway on his way home that night had fallen. He prepared himself for another night at the ‘metaphorical’ theatre with a shower and a massage before watching the superlative National Theatre production of ‘Angels in America’. The scope and relevance of Tony Kushner’s 1991 extraordinary and brave classic was impressive as was its cast and the finale, as a raggedy angel announcing the ‘great work had begun’ was breathtaking. He could only imagine its power in the theatre. Though he welcomed the opportunity of seeing these recordings of contemporary productions he was still not sure if he really liked the notion of filmed live theatre. It could not compare to the thrill of sitting in a theatre feeling the magic descend as the lights come up on the stage. However, it had demanded his attention and engaged his mind in some wonderful verbal gymnastics and when it was over he was really ready for the nights sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was surprised that 5 hours of his day on 23 February seemed to get lost and when he came to write it up he could not fathom how the morning had passed. He suspected that as always he spent fifteen minutes on learning Mandarin, downloading his film from the GoPro and he could recollect spending sometime on making an asparagus soup for lunch but the hours engaged in these activities seemed excessive and he decided that reflecting on how the afternoon was spent was clearly as interesting as his day got. Peng had located an intriguing nearby coffee bar just off the road to Xidan. It was close enough to walk though it was not long before they were both complaining of the cold. The route took them past The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at Xuanwumen a historic Roman Catholic Church. As the Cathedral has been shut for repairs since December 2018 and its entrance hidden from view behind the now completed renovation of Xuanwumen Subway station he had paid it only scant interest. But now they were in its immediate vicinity he decided to take a closer look. The history revealed by stopping was worth the effort. The original foundation of the cathedral was in 1605, making it the oldest Catholic church in Beijing, though the current building dates from 1904. In 1601, the 33rd year of the reign of the Wanli Emperor of the Ming dynasty. the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci arrived in Beijing after twenty years of missionary work in China. He became the first European to enter the Forbidden City when he was invited to become an adviser to the imperial court. This honor was in recognition of his scientific abilities, chiefly his predictions of solar eclipses, which were significant events in the Chinese world. He converted several prominent Chinese officials to Catholicism, worked with several Chinese elites such as Xu Guangqi, in translating Euclid’s Elements into Chinese as well as the Confucian classics into Latin for the first time in history and completion of the Zhifang Waiji, China’s first global atlas and the Kunyu Wanguo Quantu, a map of the world written in Chinese characters. For these the Emperor permitted him a residence with a small Chinese style chapel on which he established the Cathedral. The chapel was replaced with a European style church building when a bishop was appointed in 1703 but destroyed by an earthquake in 1720 it was rebuilt but severely damaged by another quake in 1730. In 1838, the Qing government decreed a restriction of the activity of the Catholic Church in China. In this decree, the cathedral was confiscated by the government and remained such until the end of the Second Opium War, when the Catholic Church was again permitted to act freely. When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900, all the churches of Beijing were targets of vandalism, and on 14 June 1900, the cathedral was razed to the ground. In 1904, the present structure, the fourth church on the site, was completed. It was a fascinating history lesson and led to the discovery of a couple of further relics he could explore. The Cafe was comfortable and smart and they spent a relaxing couple of hours before heading hurriedly home through the very cold temperatures. They continued the delicious Tang Yuan tradition with some Black sesame and Peanut glutinous millet balls. He had expected to resume the watching of ‘Angels in America, but Peng had alternative ideas and instead the extraordinarily revelatory ‘Judas, Black Messiah’ was the film fare for the evening and paved the way for a night of vivid dreamscapes during his sleep.